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Starkey: Acquiring a different view on sports

| Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy, Meals?

That was one of many clever tweets I received in the aftermath of perhaps the strangest baseball game I have ever witnessed. Certainly the strangest ending, as umpire Jerry Meals robbed the Pirates with a call that sent the baseball world into a tweeting frenzy.

He wanted out of there so badly, one tweeter opined, that they should call him "Meals on Wheels."

Honestly, what I will remember 30 years from now (if I'm still alive and tweeting) isn't so much how the game ended but how the six-hour, 39-minute experience revolutionized my sports-viewing routine: I watched alone yet in the company of thousands.

Understand, I'm new to this Twitter stuff. I could never understand why anyone needed a laptop while watching a game. When fellow Trib columnist Dejan Kovacevic introduced me to Twitter 10 days ago, I was frightened.

Now, I'm enlightened.

I'll never watch another game alone.

Like many of you, I have spent a tragic portion of my existence glued to a television watching grown men beat a ball with a stick. Or chase a small piece of frozen rubber. Or push each other back and forth on a hundred-yard lawn. And, like many of you, I have witnessed some of the greatest games in history in solitude. It just works out that way sometimes.

The biggest comeback in NFL history (Bills-Oilers)• Nobody around.

Chris Webber's infamous timeout• Alone.

John Elway's 98-yard drive in Cleveland• Just me.

Syracuse-UConn six overtimes• You guessed it.

My recall of those events is dulled by the fact that nobody was there to share the experience. It's like reminiscing about a solo trip to the Grand Canyon. Much fonder are mental snapshots of moments shared with others. Even sportswriters.

I'll never forget, for example, normally comatose colleagues gasping as they watched Jerome Bettis fumble at the Indianapolis goal line. Or the night my parents and I stood and cheered in our living room at the end of the greatest game ever played: Boise State-Oklahoma, Fiesta Bowl, 2007.

I don't think my mother had ever seen a sporting event past midnight, let alone cheered for one.

But back to Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning). The ratings on Root Sports were phenomenal, rivaling Penguins-like playoff numbers. At 10:30, upwards of 416,000 people were tuned in.

Thanks to Twitter, it felt like half of them were in my man cave.

The fun really started after 11, when @AustinJoel wondered, "Has anyone ever gone 0-10 in a single game, because it's possible (Lyle) Overbay will accomplish that tonight."

I then tweeted that Steve Pearce has to be "the world's only 28-year-old prospect," to which @JamesSantelli responded, "Joe, meet John Bowker. John, Joe."

Around the 15th inning, I suggested penalty kicks (@Ken_Laird responded "would Overbay make contact there?") or maybe a home-run derby to decide the outcome and threw out the challenge: Pick your three Pirates hitters.

Sampling of responses:

"McKenry, Cutch, cardboard cutout of Overbay."

"Bonds, Stargell & Clemente."

"Clint Hurdle, Nick Leyva, Neal Huntington."

"1.) McKenry 2.) Abby Wambach 3.) Cutch"

By 1 a.m., everybody, including the television announcers, had lost their minds -- in a good way. Greg Brown and John Wehner were having fun, which is what you want in that situation. Brown cracked himself up when he accidentally referred to Overbay as "LaRoche" (what's the difference, really?), and Wehner kept singing "Danny Boy." Badly.

@sto4981 offered this: "the Atlanta chop drummer is going on the 15-day DL as of Wednesday." ESPN's Buster Olney praised the amazing little girl who cheered for the Pirates on every pitch, tweeting: "Send that kid into budget negotiations in Washington to scream for a solution. Deal would be done in a few hours."

The fun turned to outrage on the final play, and Twitter provided what no other medium in the history of sports ever could: Immediate combined reaction of fans, media and participants.

The first five tweets I saw, within seconds of Meals' call:

» "No way."

» "WHAT!"

» my god."

» "I'm actually shaking."

» "Clint Hurdle is gonna turn purple again."

Can you imagine if Twitter had existed for the Immaculate Reception?

The last tweet I saw, before collapsing, was from Trib colleague Karen Price, who was in Atlanta covering the game: "Just got back to the hotel and the USA Today was already at my door. On that note, goodnight."

Great night, actually, despite the sour ending.

I'll never watch sports the same.

Sleepless in the 'Burgh

At points during the Pirates' 19-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday morning, the television rating on Root Sports rivaled a Penguins playoff game. Even by the bitter end — at 1:50 a.m. — the game had a bigger audience than any of the local 11 p.m. newscasts Tuesday night. The ratings of that game in half-hour splits; one rating point equals 11,500 households (assuming 2.5 residents per household) or 28, 750 viewers:

Time — Rating

7 p.m. — 3.80

7:30 — 7.29

8 — 8.27

8:30 — 9.63

9 — 10.27

9:30 — 12.55

10 — 12.72

10:30 — 14.49*

11 — 12.63

11:30 — 11.67

Midnight — 9.33

12:30 a.m. — 8.63

1 — 8.14

1:30 — 7.40

1:50 — 7.77

*—The high point, with 166,635 households and 416,587 people tuned in.

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